Ghostwood: California’s Parasitic Albino Trees

15 Apr

Henry Cowell State Park is home to ghosts. Deathly pale redwood trees can appear in certain areas, like the vengeful spirits of young plants cut down in their prime. But these ghosts are tangible, real, alive, and many of them have become famous landmarks and tourist attractions. These aren’t actually apparitions, instead they’re simply albinos. Their leaves lack the chlorophyll that normally turns plants green.

However, while they are definitely not ghosts these trees are not one-hundred percent wholesome. These are vampires, parasites feeding off the roots of other, nearby trees.


To understand how this relationship can form, one must understand how plants redwoods reproduce. In addition to sprouting from seeds, new saplings can also arise from the stumps or roots of larger trees. These sprouts are clonal children, asexual offspring of the parent tree. This isn’t a terribly uncommon thing in the plant kingdom. Strawberries and aspen trees do this too. In this method the child plant sprouts near the parent and instead of using energy stored in the flesh of a fruit or seed, they take what they need from the original plant. Normally at some point the child would start to fend for itself and become an independent (though still connected) organism.

But these weird albino trees lack the chlorophyll necessary to feed themselves. They can’t photosynthesize. The only way they can survive is by continuing to suck nutrients from the parent tree. This is the reason they aren’t ever found away from the host tree, they’d simply starve to death on their own. They are a quirky child, totally dependent on the parent.

Interestingly, there is a twist to this relationship and the original tree doesn’t always allow this charity. During lean times they will simply cut off supplies to their resident vampire, but, like their namesakes, the albinos will eventually rise again when conditions improve. They sustain themselves off stores of stolen nutrients and simply wait for the parent to relax. In this way they seem to disappear and reappear, like, well, ghosts.

This phenomenon can appear anywhere in the world, but Henry Cowell State Park seems to have an abnormally high number of them in its borders. It is not known why.

Sources: SFGate, Parascientifica


Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Ghostwood: California’s Parasitic Albino Trees

  1. Music&Meaning

    May 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    TG: informative an beautifully written…bravo! RT

  2. Music&Meaning

    May 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    ps. I’ve linked to your blog… RT


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